Dal Lazlo and Charles Johannsen's Walk into Hell and Purgatorio have, in combination, been awarded Best Wisconsin Experimental Short Film for the 2007 Wisconsin Film Festival.
Produced 30 years and 10 miles apart, the twinned surreal shorts will enjoy their world premiere as part of the short.times.twelve program at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, April 14; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 15, both in the UW Memorial Union's Fredric March Play Circle.
In an interview conducted by email, Lazlo discusses the production of Walk into Hell/Purgatorio, how his paintings and etchings relate to the movies he makes, and which other movies he is looking forward to seeing at this month's Wisconsin Film Festival.
The Daily Page: Where were you and what were you doing when you learned Walk into Hell/Purgatorio had been awarded Best Wisconsin Experimental Short Film, and what was your reaction to the news?
Lazlo: I received an email from Meg [Hamel, director of the Wisconsin Film Festival] and figured it was definitely good news as we are embarking on a new film this summer so it was nice to have some recognition on these two shorts. This next film will probably be feature length, starring Paul Filipowicz, local bluesman. It's an existential crime film -- very dark.
When, where and how did you and Johannsen conceive Walk into Hell/Purgatorio? What was your inspiration?
The films were conceived at two different times. Walk into Hell was done some time ago; the inspiration for that was a love of the silent German cinema of the UFA [the German movie producer Universum Films AG]. Purgatorio was shot last summer, using the same actors from Walk into Hell. In this film surrealism plays an important role along with religious themes using lots of animation.
As co-directors, what did you and Johannsen each contribute to the project -- how would you describe your individual roles during the collaboration?
We worked on the script, shoot, and editing together so it's really a co-production. We work together amazingly well, not unlike the Coen Brothers, I guess.
Why did you choose to use a DVCam for the project? What advantages did it afford in making Walk into Hell/Purgatorio?
That's a very good question. In fact, we shot Walk into Hell on 16mm black and white film stock and Purgatorio in DVCam. The difference between the two is apparent -- anyone who knows film understands DVCam is much more accessible, yet there's no way a filmmaker can ever get the unique look of 16mm with DVCam. If someone knows how to achieve that great old black and white look with DVCam, let me know.
You've described the two films as "quirky," and the Wisconsin Film Festival guide uses "surreal, humorous, bizarre and warm" in its description of them. Without resorting to spoilers, could you be more specific?
The two films are wildly different in tone. Walk into Hell is a very dark ominous horror movie and Purgatorio is more like brain-damaged surrealism. I guess if you combine the two, you might describe them as quirky, but in a really scary way.
Why should people attend your world premiere at the Wisconsin Film Festival?
Because they won't see anything else like these films at the festival. They are entertaining, yet psychologically involved.
Who do you envision in the audience for the world premiere of Walk into Hell/Purgatorio? For whom do you think your film will hold the greatest appeal?
Actually, more times than I'd like to admit people have mentioned that Walk into Hell tends to resemble some of David Lynch's work, but that was never our intention at all, we are just stylistically similar. People who enjoy his films will certainly like these movies.
Many people here know you as a painter and printmaker. If they didn't know you had co-directed Walk into Hell/Purgatorio, how might they recognize your involvement in these twin shorts?
I think you'll see that these two films are highly visual with intense art direction. Anyone familiar with my paintings and prints, will see familiar themes running through both films.
How do your paintings and prints influence your approach to filmmaking?
I always try to include some of my art in my films. In Walk into Hell we used exotic art direction, tricky camera exposure, all in a very artistic way, along with unique props, including biological specimens, human skulls, and weaponry. In Purgatorio, I included my art through animation. We used the images in the film and took them into cosmic direction by painted animation.
Would you describe yourself as a visual artist who makes films, or a filmmaker who paints and prints? If you had to give up one medium, which would you sacrifice and why?
Right now it would be impossible to do any sacrificing of either, but, if the safety of the world depended on it, and someone was willing to finance it, I would make movies, lots of 'em, but I still have to do my painting and graphic work because the safety of my sanity depends on that.
Which other films will you be seeing at this year's Wisconsin Film Festival?
I will be seeing Jodorovsky's The Holy Mountain. I saw [Jodorovsky's] El Topo in New York in 1969 and it made a great impression on me and I think it might have had an influence on Walk into Hell.